History & heritage  |  4 Sep 2019

New Zealand’s oldest operational steamship, based in Lyttelton since 1907, has been thrown a funding lifeline by a Christchurch City Council committee.

At a meeting today, the Social, Community Development and Housing Committee agreed to give the Tug Lyttelton Preservation Society a grant of $41,620 towards conservation and maintenance work on the 112-year-old tug, including dry docking fees.

Committee Chairman Phil Clearwater says the Lyttelton has historical and social significance and its retention and repair is worthy of support.

“This is a much-loved piece of local history and a wonderful piece of craftsmanship that’s very accessible to the public as a passenger boat and tourist attraction.

"The society’s volunteers have done a wonderful job of keeping it shipshape and we’re happy to offer some support to help keep the tug in action.”

It is the first Heritage Incentive Grant made under new guidelines that provide funding for ‘significant moveable heritage’.

The society has also recently received a $10,000 grant from the Council’s Metropolitan Discretionary Response Grant fund.

For several decades the Lyttelton helped ships get safely in and out of the harbour. On 1 January 1908 she escorted Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod to Lyttelton Heads with locals crowding the surrounding hills to watch.

The tug was retired from service in 1971 but since then has forged a new career as a passenger steamer taking people on cruises around Lyttelton Harbour and on charter trips.

The ship’s boilers recently needed repairs which have taken it out of service for the last two summer sailing seasons. It now has to go into dry dock before it can return to operation as a passenger vessel and the Tug Lyttelton Preservation Society, whose members voluntarily keep the tug in full working order, has asked for funding.

Society Board Member Roger Ellery welcomed the grant which he says will help keep the tug operational. “We’ve put in hundreds of voluntary hours to preserve the tug which really is a piece of living history. But it’s also an interesting, unique tourist attraction that’s of great benefit to Christchurch.

"We really want to become financially sustainable in the long term and, along with our other fundraising, this grant is a step in that direction.”

The little tug that could

The Lyttelton, originally called the ‘Canterbury’ was built in Glasgow, Scotland by the Ferguson Brothers and was cutting edge for its time, with twin coal burning steam engines and twin propellers.

It was operational in Lyttelton from 1907 until it was retired from service in 1971 and looked set to be dismantled.

The Tug Lyttelton Preservation Society, which officially took ownership of the tug in 1989, converted it to carry passengers in 1973. It has operated as a tourist attraction since then, providing trips around the harbour and special charter cruises.

The Lyttelton is one of only three fully operational steam-powered ships in New Zealand along with the SS Earnslaw which operates on Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown and the William C Daldy in Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour.

Other grants

The Committee also approved a $37,000 Heritage Incentive Grant for St David’s Church in Belfast for conservation, maintenance and upgrade work to the building. The church, designed by Christchurch architect Samuel Hurst Seagar in a Gothic Revival style, opened in 1903 and is listed Category 2 by Heritage New Zealand and described as ‘highly significant’ in the Christchurch District Plan.

A grant of $45,334 was made towards the conservation and maintenance of the brick façade of 141 High St, one of the 16 units – shops and retail spaces with living areas or offices above - that make up the Duncan’s Building between St Asaph St and Tuam St. This is consistent with previously approved Council grants for ten other units of the earthquake-damaged building, which is registered Category 2 by Heritage New Zealand.